Thursday, 21 March 2019

Book Review: At Home in Mumbai by Chandrima Pal

Book: At Home in Mumbai

Author: Chandrima Pal

Pages: 256

Read: The paperback copy pictured above

Read in: 2-3 hours

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Plot Summary: Mumbai. A place you can call home and yet where you might remain homeless. Friendly and hostile. Generous and ruthless. A city that embraces and embodies contradictions. 
No other city captures your imagination with such fierceness. And none other obsesses as much over space be it a 250 sq. ft kholi in a chawl or a snazzy apartment in a gated colony. The boy who calls a patch on the pavement his ghar, or the globetrotting fashion entrepreneur at her Cumballa Hill home, the star waving to his fans from his Bandra terrace, or the migrant who struggles to find acceptance in the city teeming with outsiders every person in this city has a story of negotiating the idea of space.

At Home in Mumbai is an attempt to tell some of these stories to understand what being at home really means to those who have been part of the incredible narrative that is Mumbai.

Things I Liked:
  • My sister and I read very few non-fiction titles and so, when we do pick these up, it is because we found the premise unique and interesting- both things which this book was! A book that journeys through the different types of homes in Mumbai seemed just like the perfect thing to read to fall back in love with one's city! 
  • This book traces the city's cultural landscape and evolution, especially, the impact of the brutal 1993 riots and the impact it had on communities, neighbourhoods and the way people lived and interacted in this city. I really appreciated the socio-cultural grounding that this book had, which just made the individual stories richer. 
  • The author covers a wide variety of homes all over the city! From a khandaani bungalow on Cumbala Hill to the shanties lining the train tracks to apartment buildings in the suburbs- this book's dwellings are as diverse as the city herself. So, whether you are from Bombay/ Mumbai or are just curious about the city, then this is a great book to pick up as you get to see the whole spectrum of how people live in this megapolis. 
  • I also liked how this book wove in the city's history wherever it was relevant. Whether it was chronicling the life of the swish "townie" set in the 1950s-60s or the story of how an iconic chawl evolved through the years or even certain the history of some old neighbourhoods in the city. This book is a nice little crash course on the city's history as well. 
  • Each chapter features a home and the story of its inhabitants and I loved the different people that we met in this book. Whether it is the journey of a retired hospital cleaner, who is struggling to keep her roof of her Madh Island home from flying off or that of a young couple struggling with this city as much as they are with their Autistic son or of feisty pavement dwellers, who fight to defend their space on the city's crowded pavements. The absolute lack of judgement is something I really appreciated about the author's writing style. 

Things I Didn't Like: Nothing, but I so wish there were pictures to accompany each story. The words bring the homes and neighbourhoods alive, but I would've loved some visual depiction of these homes as well. 

Rating: 4.5/ 5

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